FORT WAYNE — Fort Wayne’s rich beer-making tradition began in the 1850s when Herman Hartman opened the city’s first commercial brewery.
Maybe it’s the area’s German heritage that drives the city’s thirst for the foamy brew.
After Hartman, other beer-makers soon followed: The Phenning Brewery opened in 1853 and was later renamed the Summit City Brewery; Charles Centlivre began the French Brewery in 1862, only for it to adopt his own name; the Berghoff brand popped up in 1887 and lasted through 1954; Falstaff was brewed here until 1990. Now there is the Mad Anthony Brewing Co.
These are the commercial beer-makers that produced the kind of beverages sold across dark, wooden bars and, more currently, liquor stores that tempt customers with Slim Jims and Powerball tickets. But now the amateurs are getting into the act.
The area is peppered with individuals who have converted garages and basements into mini-breweries.
Once upon a Prohibition time, it was called “bootlegging.” Now under Indiana Code 7.1-3-2, it’s called “crafting” beer.
“We’re basically doing the same process as any commercial brewery would do,” says Phil Comparet, a 39-year-old graphic designer who has been homebrewing since 2007. “Some guys keep it basic, and some guys are more like me, who like to tinker with things and make things a little more technical.”
Comparet and many of his brew-mates meet frequently at the Trion Tavern in New Haven, where they swap stories, taste tips and recipes. They even stay in touch through a Facebook page, the M.A.S.H. Fort Wayne Homebrew Club.
While some admit that saving a dollar or two was their initial reason for making their own beer, the attempt at frugality has morphed into a time-, if not beer-, consuming hobby.
Just as a golfer’s equipment can fluctuate from a starter set to more expensive custom-made clubs, the homebrewer has many options.
“It all depends on how much you want to go with your hobby, and how much you jump in,” says Francie Lengerich, owner of Brewer’s Art, 1425 N. Wells St., which sells supplies. “You can keep it simple or make it crazy.
“To get started, you don’t need a whole lot of space. I’ve got plenty of people who live in apartments and have room for it, then there are the guys that convert their garages or turn their man cave into a bar or whatever.”
To begin, Lengerich says, the newbie needs a stainless-steel pot, yeast, hops and barley. And of course, bottles to fill and cap. “To get started, a batch of beer is about $30, $35 on average.”
Craig Emenhiser admits his set-up isn’t elaborate.
“To call it a brewery is kind of a stretch,” he says. “Once it got too cold out there to do it in the garage during the winter, I decided to do it in the basement. That’s where I do mine at now.”
He adds, “It’s not suitable for a lot of other things.”
One of Comparet’s close brew-friends is Brian Spaulding, who not only makes his own beer but is a certified beer judge at competitions.
Spaulding says he has turned his garage into a brewery and has been making beer for eight years – which is OK for his wife, so long as he keeps it in the garage.
“On brew day, it takes about six hours to actually brew the beer, and it takes a few weeks of fermenting,” Spaulding says. “On brew day, my wife always leaves.”
He says she’s never tasted one of his beers – ever.
Comparet, meanwhile, is single. There’s him, his garage, his car, his motorcycle and his elaborate brewery system.
“I’ve got a countertop that I built to set the whole area up, and it’s up year-round,” he says.
Comparet attached a controller to a chest freezer so he can manage the temperature during fermentation. Lagers and ales require different temperatures, and because he can control the settings, Comparet can make either at any time of the year.
“I’ve got grain stored in my laundry room and other brewing equipment in my laundry room. I’ve always got beers sitting around and fermenting in the kitchen sometimes if I don’t have extra space in the fermentation chamber. It can definitely take over a house. Then each batch that I do yields 10 gallons.”
That would be close to 100 12-ounce bottles, or about four cases.
Not to be confused with Emenhiser’s 2-year-old son, Case.
“Being a country boy, everybody says, ‘Oh, like Case tractors?’ No, not at all; we’re more of a John Deere family.”